Labor - And A Whole Lot More

UC's Quest for the Best, Brightest - and Greediest
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Scandalous. Outrageous. Astounding. Brazen. Pick your adjective. The sky-high and often secret spending of University of California administrators on each other's salaries and other compensation is all that and probably more. But finally the State Legislature is paying serious attention - and finally may try to do something about it.

Republican Assemblyman Jeff Denham of Salinas, among others, is on to them: "UC says it wants to hire the best and the brightest. It seems like they just want to hire the greediest."

That's been well-documented, most recently in investigative reports by the San Francisco Chronicle and other newspapers. Legislative committees are doing their investigating in hearings that began this month.

Denham is putting before the committees a bill that would order UC's governing Board of Regents to abandon its practice of setting the pay and benefits of UC administrators in secret meetings and to make yearly disclosures of all administrative compensation.

The regents set compensation in secret, and then don't even disclose the full amount to taxpayers, students and others whose money they're using? Yes, strange as that may seem for a publicly-funded institution.

The regents aren't the only ones who shovel piles of dollars to those who presume to direct the work of the university that's largely done by much lower-paid hired hands. The university president and others at the top of UC 's hierarchy are empowered to set the compensation of many fellow administrators.

How many dollars are they spending? Well, during the past fiscal year nearly 500 UC administrators got more than $300,000 in pay, plus health insurance, pension fund contributions and other benefits. Another 2,200 or so got more than $200,000. And as the university recently disclosed under media pressure, it secretly paid at least $871 million in additional compensation to administrators in bonuses, auto and housing allowances, entertainment expenses, club dues and other extras, including six-figure severance payments for administrators who quit.

Even that wasn't enough for UC regents. Just a few hours after voting to raise various student fees by as much as 10 percent last November, they adopted a recommendation that came out of a secret meeting of a regents' committee to also grant administrators "merit increases" averaging 3 percent.

UC President Robert Dynes' base pay went from $395,000 to $405,000 a year. Chancellors, deans, and other executives at UC's 10 campuses went up to as much as $358,000. Plus, of course, those lucrative extras. It costs UC about $1 million a year to maintain rent-free homes for Dynes and the campus chancellors. The university paid for all the furnishings, right down to the teakettle ($75) and front doormat ($80) at the $10 million president's mansion in Berkeley.

Most lower level administrators have to rent or buy their own places, but can depend on Dynes and other UC officials to help them with grants of thousands of dollars to cover their rents. Or they can get low-interest home loans.

Those coming to UC from academic posts elsewhere also needn't worry about the costs. They can expect generous "relocation allowances."

Typically, David Kessler, dean of UC's medical school in San Francisco, got -- in addition to his $540,000 salary -- a $125,000 allowance for moving from Connecticut, $30,000 for six month's rent, his actual moving expenses, even round-trip tickets for him and his family to fly West to house-hunt.

M.R.C. Greenwood, appointed by President Dynes in 2004 as UC provost for $380,000, also got $125,000 for moving, though her trip was a bit shorter -- 70 miles, to Oakland from UC-Santa Cruz, where she had been chancellor. She resigned as provost this year to take a 15-month sabbatical, at $25,000 a month. After that, she'll return to teaching for a mere $164,000 a year.

Greenwood is hardly alone. Several others who resigned administrative posts also have done so for payoffs higher than $300,000, some without even meeting the requirement that they return to teaching afterward for at least as long as they were on leave.

The pricey sabbaticals, better described as paid leaves or severance payments, are granted to administrators on grounds that they'd be eligible for sabbaticals if they were faculty members. Their sabbatical pay, however, is considerably higher than faculty pay because it matches their administrative salaries, which are at least twice as large as faculty salaries. Like Greenwood, their paid leaves also are sometimes longer than the year granted faculty.

At least one chancellor, UC San Diego's Marye Anne Fox, was paid for not taking a sabbatical. She secretly got $248,000 in addition to her $350,000 salary to compensate her for forfeiting a paid sabbatical due her at North Carolina State University to come to San Diego.

All that money is being doled out to administrators while the pay of faculty members, teaching assistants and non-academic employees vital to the university's operations remains all but frozen at notably low levels, and student fees and class sizes continue a steep and steady move upward to notably high levels.

Those at the top of UC's hierarchy - surprise! - argue that they and their fellow administrators must continue to be rewarded in the handsome fashion to which they've become so comfortably accustomed. Why, says UC President Dynes, "getting and keeping the best people... sometimes requires compensation packages that may look excessive on the outside, but that reflect true competitive realities.....We must stay competitive for the best people."

And who are these "best people"? They are, of course, the best administrators our tax money can buy, educators who will serve only if the price is right.

It's all too clear that the University of California is hiring administrators whose devotion to education can be measured by their demand for the highest possible compensation, men and women who sell their services to the highest bidder at our expense and that of UC's students, faculty and staff.

Copyright (c) Dick Meister